The Nokk Club is a private establishment where even Queen Anna needs a table reservation. Built almost immediately after the Great Thawing, the Nokk Club rapidly became a social haunt of the rising professional classes whose captains of industry surpassed the aristocracy and old Viking families in importance: traders, bankers, importers and managers, and senior politicians and journalists. It is the only other concentrated power centre to truly rival the Great Assembly (Arendelle’s parliament) or the monarchy itself. It is certainly the most modern among the three, where high society gathers to glimpse a future of an increasingly connected world…
Mutters arose from multiple tables as Princess Anna stormed past luxuriant leather chairs, tables of the finest oak, and mahogany walls framed with oil paintings of clipper ships and Arendellian landscapes. She ignored the sideways glances of the professional elites who spent their leisure time here over a gin and tonic or imported wine and whisky. There was an unspoken rule among members that the Nokk Club was really for the masters of the new world: ladies and gentlemen of ambition and industry rather than the increasingly suffocated circles of nobility. Crucially, the Arendellian royal family had their palace. These accidents of royal birth weren’t supposed to show up at this den of achievement and drive, of personal empires built on studiousness and ingenuity.
Anna didn’t care. She strode straight up to a corner table, glaring down at its occupant. That happened to be yours truly, and I quickly disengaged my piece of steak when I recognized those aquamarine eyes, red hair, and unmistakable pink shawl. “Princess Anna,” I said, dropping my knife and fork. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Are you the editor of The Arendelle Guardian?” she asked, running her pupils up and down my black jacket and white shirt.
I kept my voice steady. “Yes, Your Highness.”
“Your paper just received a big loan from Kristoff, and you’ve sent your reporters to gather intel on Elsa’s opponents in the House of Jarls. Is that right?” She put her hands on her hips, fire in her eyes. “I know all this because I squeezed the info out of them. They didn’t care to tell me on their own, and neither did you!”
I raised my hands defensively. “I obtained that loan from your other half after I invited him here, right at this table, for a business proposition. Since he’s now an impressively wealthy Ice Master by Elsa’s good graces, I knew he felt a debt to Elsa. And I wanted to employ more journalists in my newsroom to assist Elsa’s reign. We were ideally placed to cooperate – ”
“You invited him here and not me?”
I felt my frustration growing. “Your Highness, I’m not implying anything – ”
“Then tell me why I’ve been left out of everything. Everything, even after coronation night. Even after Hans betrayed me. Even after the Great Thawing.”
Anna’s voice sounded like on the verge of cracking. I stared up into her furious eyes, and behind that indignant fire I saw genuine hurt and bewilderment.
I softened my tone. “I offered your sister my paper’s full support the night she fled up north,” I confessed. “Only now have we really been able to work together and coordinate some campaigns to bolster public support and whittle away at her political foes.”
“Elsa’s queen and I support her all the way. But I could help. I’m not useless, though apparently everyone, from completely random strangers like you to my own boyfriend, thinks I am.”
“You have a way with dramatic language,” I muttered, rubbing the ridges of my eyes. I felt the disapproving gazes of all the other diners – some of them senior journalists from my rival papers – on Anna and me. “Your Highness,” I hissed, looking up at her as my impatience flared. “Can we talk somewhere more private?”
Anna’s gaze hardened. “Alright. Step outside with me,” she challenged. She grabbed my arm and pulled with surprising strength. That was that. She dragged me out in plain sight of the other Nokk Club members and soon we were out at the back, her passionate eyes boring into me as I uncomfortably tried to light a cigar.
“I don’t smoke,” she said huffily. “I have weak lungs.”
I wondered if that was true, but I sourly pocketed my last refuge anyway. I decided that I was cornered by this woman and had to surrender. “As I said inside, I’ve been working with Elsa for some time now. Indeed, my paper has been around long before you sisters could even read. You’ve only just noticed now because Elsa’s coronation made both her and you uniquely vulnerable to political pressure, as untested sovereigns taking over from far more conservative men.”
“Fine,” said Anna, peering at me closely. “But why help us? Elsa told me that you’re not actually from around here.”
“An unfair assumption. I wasn’t born Arendellian, but I’ve lived and payed taxes here for decades,” I protested. “I can vote, just like any of your native-born subjects.”
“Kristoff spoke of you admiringly. Said you’ve travelled everywhere and have legal residencies in other nations. You could leave anytime if you wanted to.”
“He’s technically right, but I love Arendelle and consider it my civic duty to edit a newspaper that informs citizens and helps the monarchy.”
“Then this is the kicker,” said Anna, and her anger was now slowly being displaced by curiosity. “Why set the stakes so high if you don’t need to? Why help us?”
I matched her gaze, and I surprised myself by my honesty. “Look at me, Your Highness. I’m not young anymore. I spent fourteen years wondering where two little princesses had vanished to. Then I found out the evil secret of what Agnarr had done to you and Elsa. My heart broke for you. Worse, the palace forced us newspaper owners to suppress the truth. If our reporters broke what remains to this day a scandal, we’d be exiled or imprisoned.”
Anna looked sad already, but her expression hid many more years of loneliness and emotional trauma.
I shook my head, shuddering at the memory. “I can’t imagine the pain you and Elsa suffered during those long years of isolation and solitary confinement. Yet I chose the survival of my paper over you. The guilt of failing to expose what you and your sister went through has haunted me for many nights. But I saw an opportunity, to make amends when Elsa became our queen. I’ve been at your service since Elsa’s coronation night, although that doesn’t excuse my not telling you. Forgive Elsa and Kristoff; it’s my fault.”
I held out my hand in silent invitation and Anna glanced at my signet ring before hesitantly putting her hand on mine.
“Please accept my apologies, my princess.”
She looked up at me, her eyes vulnerable despite her strong words. “Thanks for explaining yourself. So, will you let me help you and Elsa?”
“Oh yes,” I promised. “You should come by our newsroom, near the docksides. You should see for yourself all the dirty tricks we world-weary hacks have. How The Arendelle Guardian is going to deploy them for Elsa and you.”
Anna’s nervous face finally relaxed into an eager grin. “And you’ve got to come by the palace more often, so we can talk about how Elsa and I can work with your paper. No more of this weird club for you.”
I chuckled as we shook hands, royal and commoner. “One day, Your Highness, you may well reign over us. If that day comes, I’d like you to pen a personal, exclusive column in The AG.”
Anna rolled her eyes, laughing. “Me, queen? Fat chance. But you got it. Deal!”